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Whenever someone with Alcohol Use Disorder decides to stop drinking, or significantly cut back, it can lead to Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). AWS is the medical term used to describe a common set of withdrawal symptoms that people experience when they cut themselves off.
These symptoms range from relatively mild to potentially life-threatening. That is why you must consult with a medical or rehabilitation treatment professional before you stop drinking.
It is much safer to have someone observe you in case you develop more severe symptoms. That way, someone can intervene if you need medical help. It’s worth noting that if you have gone through this detoxing and withdrawal period multiple times due to relapsing, that can affect what signs you exhibit and for how long.
You can read more about the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal you may experience in our guide here.
However, you may be told that you are likely to only experience milder symptoms. This may be because you are in otherwise good health, or because you do not show signs of heavy or long-term alcohol abuse. If this is the case, you may be given some medication as a precaution with the option of detoxing at home.
If this is the case, it will still be worth having a family member or friend around to make sure you are okay. Show them this guide so they understand what signs of alcohol withdrawal they should be aware of.
Table of Contents
- What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?
- What Are the First Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal?
- What Are the Signs of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal?
- What Are the Signs of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
It’s good to know why alcohol withdrawal happens so you understand why signs of it present themselves. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms exist because of how alcohol affects your body. When you consume alcohol, it affects a number of your organs in a number of mild and temporary ways. For the purposes of talking about the causes of alcohol withdrawal, the main concern is how it affects your central nervous system — especially your brain.
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it decreases the speed and efficiency with which your central nervous system operates. Your brain’s processing power gets slowed down, as your thoughts become more lazy and unfocused.
If someone abuses alcohol over a long period of time, those effects accumulate. To compensate your brain has to be constantly operating at a far greater effort to maintain the ability to function. For AWS, this becomes a problem when you suddenly stop drinking or dramatically cut down on how much alcohol you consume.
Your brain does not realize that it doesn’t need to be operating so frantically anymore, and without the depressing effects of alcohol, it will go through a period of adjustment. That is the period when you will experience the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.
What Are the First Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Since alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms occur because of your central nervous system, all of the signs that withdrawal has begun will present in that manner Your mental faculties, psychological state, and physical coordination will all begin to change.
The initial signs will be subtle and will begin within the first 24 hours after your last drink. They include the following signs:
- You will be more irritable, agitated and anxious with increasing severity.
- You will also experience things like headaches, fever, and nausea.
- You may feel restless and unable to sleep due to insomnia, and your hands and coordination might become shaky.
- You may feel your pulse becomes more rapid and your breathing is heavier and more labored.
For most people, you should not see any signs of the most serious symptoms within the first day, those should come later. However, that will depend on your specific circumstances.
You can read more about the timelines of alcohol withdrawal in our guide here.
What Are the Signs of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal?
The peak period of alcohol withdrawal is around 24 to 72 hours after your last drink. This is when the signs of withdrawal will be the most obvious.
- You will visibly be sweating quite heavily
- You will have shaking and tremors beyond just your hands
- You will be confused and disoriented and may experience hallucinations as well.
- You may also lose consciousness and have seizures from time to time as well.
- Your overall behavior and physical coordination will be very obviously abnormal.
You may exhibit these signs of alcohol withdrawal for longer than one week, but generally speaking, most people will see the symptoms start fading after four to five days. However, you may experience smaller symptoms or side effects of the withdrawal period for as long as one year following your final drink.
What Are the Signs of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
When the main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome have subsided, many people will still be dealing with smaller side effects of alcohol abuse. These side effects are connected to the signs you exhibited of withdrawal, which is why they are referred to as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).
Unfortunately, the signs of PAWS are what make it difficult for people to stick to their recovery. However, as with the symptoms of withdrawal, you can prepare for PAWS and manage the side effects with proper treatment so they are not as severe and do not last as long.
Signs of PAWS include the following:
- Feeling irritable all the time that leads to frequent emotional breakdowns
- Heightened anxiety
- Difficulty remembering things
- Poor physical coordination and reflexes leading to accidents and injuries
- Frequent nausea and vomiting
- Extreme cravings for alcohol
All of these signs are pointing to the fact that your brain and central nervous system are still healing and recovering from your alcohol use disorder. Generally, people who were heavier drinkers abused alcohol for longer, and/or have gone through the detox and withdrawal cycle before are more likely to experience PAWS.
It’s always worth noting that these signs of PAWS are not constant, you will have periods of feeling fine before having a flare-up for any individual symptom. However, they do generally go away after a few days at most. Having a good support network to help you through these periods, along with regular counseling, will help you stay on the road to recovery.